Positive & Negative Effects of Power in Leadership

Positive & Negative Effects of Power in Leadership
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  • 0:03 The Nature of Power
  • 1:41 Power to Bring About Change
  • 3:07 Power as a Tool
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Power bestowed upon organizational leadership can be used in a positive or negative way. In this lesson, we'll examine the different forms of power and how they are used in leading effective organizations.

The Nature of Power

What does power mean in an organization? Power is measured by the ability to get things done via knowledge, influence, and/or authority. Leaders are measured by their ability to perform and get results. In the late 1950s, American sociologists John French and Bertram Raven came up with a theory about how power can be conferred on an individual.

They identified five sources of power:

  • Positional power - In an organization with a management hierarchy, a person can hold power based upon their title and rank within the organization. For this type of power to be most effective, the person who holds the title must be viewed as having earned it legitimately. So, this might not apply to the boss's son unless he made his way through the rank and file.

  • Expert power - This is power derived from having superior knowledge. People hold this person in high regard for their critical thinking skills and their ability to solve problems. This can come from education, experience, and business or technical acumen.

  • Referent power - This power comes from relationships. It can be a function of personal charisma, or it can come from knowing people in high office and having their ear. Think of the power behind the throne.

  • Coercive power - Think of someone who has power because they're willing to twist the screws to somebody, so to speak. Coercive power comes from the ability to threaten or punish someone in order to get your way.

  • Reward power - This is power based upon the ability to provide incentives. This is viewed positively unless the rewards are handed out based on favoritism rather than merit.

Power to Bring About Change

Each of these sources of power can have an effect on bringing about change in an organization. For example, leadership can hire consultants to redesign their company's computer system. This is a major structural change that takes place because leadership valued the expertise (expert power) of the consultants enough to implement it. This can be a positive event if leadership sought buy-in from the internal IT staff before making the decision, but it might also be viewed negatively if the internal staff was not consulted.

A leader can be a change agent through the use of referent power. Think of someone in an organization who rises through the ranks by becoming an expert in office politics, schmoozing their way to the top, and building a strong personal network as they go. When that person gets to the top, they have a strong political base to get things done based upon the relationships they built along the way.

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